BMA Voices: Assembling Olafur Eliasson’s “Flower observatory”, 2004.

Olafur Eliasson. Flower observatory. 2004. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund, and Collectors Circle Fund, BMA 2003.233. © Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson. Flower observatory. 2004. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund, and Collectors Circle Fund, BMA 2003.233. © Olafur Eliasson

 Mandy Runnels, Associate Registrar for Loans & Exhibitions

One of the greatest things about working at the BMA is the special relationship we have with objects in a way that is so different from simply viewing them. The secret history and experience of museum staff is unique to our field. We take care of an object from the time it enters a collection. We work with the artist’s studio to build a work, protect it, make sure no one touches it, and lastly and often most importantly, document anything that happens to it along the way. We help build giants and can tell you every detail of their lives.

This work came to us from Denmark completely disassembled. It was daunting to look at the artist’s cad drawing of engineering specs of what the approximately 2,860 lb. piece was supposed to look like; all in pieces spread out on the floor. How could so many steel pieces with corners sharp as blades create something so beautiful? A huge number of staff worked to assemble this work over many days. Multiple people had to lift each pyramid structure while others screwed it together. Everything had to align perfectly or you would have to take parts off and start over.

Olafur Eliasson. Flower observatory. 2004. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund, and Collectors Circle Fund, BMA 2003.233. © Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson. Flower observatory. 2004. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund, and Collectors Circle Fund, BMA 2003.233. © Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson. Flower observatory. 2004. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund, and Collectors Circle Fund, BMA 2003.233. © Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson. Flower observatory. 2004. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund, and Collectors Circle Fund, BMA 2003.233. © Olafur Eliasson

Documenting this process becomes part of the life of the object. A structural engineer had to determine if the floor could hold the weight. Slowly, every inch of the work was examined and every component accounted for. Every mirrored surface was carefully buffed to remove fingerprints that could oxidize the surface, all scratches noted, and every speck of dust removed. The seemingly insurmountable task had to be recorded and photographed of archival purposes.

Olafur Eliasson. Flower observatory. 2004. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund, and Collectors Circle Fund, BMA 2003.233. © Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson. Flower observatory. 2004. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund, and Collectors Circle Fund, BMA 2003.233. © Olafur Eliasson

The inner kaleidoscope makes me think of memory and permanence; every angle makes you see something different. What permanence is there, really? The only permanence in a museum is the one those that work here create by watching over the works to preserve the artist’s intent. When I walk by the work, I feel a silence that seems to drown out any sound of media based works in neighboring galleries. Why is that? Maybe it is the monumental size or the ever-changing mirrored interior or simply, after all the activity in its construction, the work finally stands with as a monolith of hushed reflection. I personally have a secret joy in knowing I helped bring this work to actuality at the BMA and safeguard the integrity of the artist’s work to share with visitors in perpetuity.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

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